There can't be a more polarizing team in hockey. Really.
Well, maybe that's not true. Vancouver, Pittsburgh, Boston, Toronto... hockey's messed up, man. But, when it comes to Washington, things get confusing. Odd, interesting, and confusing.
No team is this much fun to watch lose. No team is this much fun to watch win.
No other team gains fanboys when its best player is playing at his worst. Ovechkin has looked like a 15-year-old version of himself for the past year, but it's easier to like him now. There are no "Oh, look, my stick is on fire!" celebrations, and there are no wacky toothless grins as he scores his 60th goals.
Well, there are toothless celebrations, but there are no 60th goals.
You've got Nicklas Backstrom, the inevitable Robin to Ovechkin's Batman, who many will attest is truly the best player in D.C. He's all pass and all sauce all the time, until he takes one too many cheap shots from Rene Bourque and the Boston Bruins. And then, when they've gone too far, he puts his lumber in their mouth. A little gratuitous, but we can't say we didn't enjoy it.
In Boston, when they do it to someone else, they call it sticking up for yourself. When it's done to them, they call it a suspension.
You've got head coach Dale Hunter... well, okay, there's not much to like about him, but can you really believe he's winning right now? He might be the worst head coach in the NHL, and he's in the second round.
This team, the Capitals, used to be a sad sack President's Trophy winner that couldn't win in the playoffs. Now, we just call that the Vancouver Canucks.
Instead, the Capitals are now a seventh seed that was never going to hit its stride. At one point, they were a 10th or 11th seed. They were pathetic, lame, and limp, and they were losing vital games to bubble teams like Winnipeg, Ottawa, and Florida.
Not long after, we realized that Washington was a bubble team, and that Winnipeg, Ottawa, and Florida were actually pretty good.
We realized that the Bruins were on the decline, and the Capitals were suddenly finding their game, even if it was abbreviated by humiliating losses. We realized that there is no different between a second seed and a seventh seed. Or, between a first seed and an eighth seed.
We realized that the Capitals are a lot more lovable as a loser. We realized how much fun it was to watch them score when they suddenly weren't able to anymore. We realized that Alex Semin's last name isn't pronounced the way you hoped it was.
Now, tied at two games apiece in their series with the top-seeded New York Rangers, it's very conceivable that the Washington Capitals could be in the Eastern Conference Final in no less than two weeks. And, it comes in the one season since 2008 that nobody expected it.
God help us. The Washington Capitals are cool.
Originally appeared in White Cover Magazine
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